May 312014

While some may disagree with me, I have to give a resounding “YES”. Unfortunately, there are many times when I hear pilots touting their “thousands of hours” to less experienced pilots or the public. Even the media tends to inadvertently imply that thousands of flight hours is equivalent to superior skills and experience.

Take some of the latest aviation stories in the news, one of which had 3 fatalities and happened on a clear day in a perfectly good airplane. News reports state that the captain had over 12,000 hrs of flight time and the first officer over 9,000 hours of flight experience – and that is the extent to which a pilot’s ability and skills are determined.

To an outsider, it must seem that surely, someone with that many THOUSANDS of hours of experience couldn’t possibly make rookie mistakes. But, consider the type of flying most airline pilots do: The takeoff, initial climb, approach, and landing phases of flight are considered the most risky.

This is also, not coincidently, where most accidents occur – 80%, in fact. Yet these phases of flight make up only a small percentage of the entire flight. The rest of the time, the pilots are simply making sure the autopilot does its job (or they should be).

Sure, they go through simulator training at least every six months, in which they practice emergency procedures, but it has been my experience, that much of these recurrent courses have become very standard, with the pilots and instructors knowing exactly what’s going to happen, at what airport, which approach they are going to shoot and how. There is very little surprise in these courses, a luxury that is simply not available in the real world.

One can only hope that these pilots who are gaining thousands upon thousands of hours flying A to B in reliable, state of the art aircraft, obtained their first thousand or two thousand hours building up their skills and experience by flying in less predictable conditions.

Most pilots in the United States build up flight time slowly, by flight instructing, flying for small cargo operations, and by renting or taking airplanes on their own adventures cross country. This is typically done in small, general aviation aircraft that, many times, have no autopilot or the latest gadgets – airplanes that break down much more often than airliners.

It is this type of flying that sharpens your skills and abilities as a pilot and is the foundation for your future ability to deal with unforeseen circumstances during the rest of your career.

If you’re in that phase of building flight time before you can apply to your dream job, such as airline pilot, make sure you step outside your comfort zone a little. Seek out opportunities that will stretch your boundaries – go to places you’ve never been to, fly aircraft you’ve never flown before, take on primary students as well as advanced students if you’re a CFI, participate in an air race, etc.

Don’t let you skills get stagnant and while I know you want to put as many hours in your logbook as possible, make sure they are quality hours in which you are learning and gaining valuable experience.

May 032013
Are you a low-time pilot trying to build up your flight time?

Try these tips and get those hours in your logbook!
It’s the age-old question – how to get experience when no one is willing to give you a chance in order to build your experience.

When I was struggling to put hours in my logbook, I had to really get creative since I already had a full time, non-flying job.

The trick was to be willing to do a little bit of leg work – getting out there and putting myself in front of opportunities.

Be prepared to see the cheesy setting of my hotel room as I talk about how I, and other pilots I know, got those first 1000 or so hours under our belts.

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Nov 032012

How I logged over 350hrs in one year while working full time

So you’ve made it through flight school and you think employers should be flocking to your door with job offers.  After all, you have over 300 hours in your logbook and a certificate in your wallet that says you can get paid to fly!  Not only that, you also have a flight instructor certificate and are already logging dual given.

As most CFI’s will tell you, instructing is grueling work.  It seems that for every hour that you can put in your logbook, you spend another hour on the ground not getting paid while you go from one student to the next, or just simply waiting for your next student.  So, essentially, you’re working twice as much as what you’re getting paid for.

CFI work

That’s exactly how I was feeling when after years of averaging 100hrs per year as a part-time CFI, I knew I needed to do something drastically different.  I had about 1000 hours, mostly as dual given, I was 33 years old, and I knew if I didn’t do something now, I was going to miss my chance to fly professionally.  Luckily, I worked for a company that I thought might give me an opportunity, but only after I obtained my ATP.  At the rate I was going, it would take another 5 years to get it.  I would be nearing 40 by then and I was already tired of working two jobs – another 5 years would simply be out of the question.

The first thing I did was to have a brainstorming session.  I took a sheet of paper, sat in my comfy couch, and started writing down any old idea of how I could build flight time.  Even wacky ideas made it to the list – forming a “flight-building” club with some buddies and trying to split the cost, buying a camera and doing aerial photography work, banner towing, traffic watch, etc.

Aeronca Champ I got my Tailwheel in

I got in touch with a club that needed tow pilots for glider towing, but I needed to have a tailwheel endorsement.  I spent a bunch of money getting a tailwheel endorsement, but in the meantime, I was still looking for ideas.  Years before, I had the opportunity to ferry a Cessna 150 from Philadelphia, PA to a town north of Duluth, MN.  I remember logging 13 hours in 3 days.  As a part-time flight instructor, it would have taken me over 3 weeks to log 13 hours!!

I knew this was something to explore further and what I found was an amazing opportunity.  I searched online for ferry services, and I only found two that were regularly used for ferrying small piston airplanes.  There was practically no competition, at least non that advertised online.  Typically, it’s easy to find a local CFI who’s more than willing to ferry an airplane somewhere.  But, for those who wanted to look for one online, they really only had two choices.

I decided to build myself a website and be a third choice.  A few days after putting up the site, I had my first customer.  Unfortunately, this was the toughest ferry anyone could ask for - an old Cessna 172 from Denver, CO to Santa Cruz, Bolivia!  Wow, I just about laughed out loud and dismissed the request, but then I thought – maybe it’s do-able.  I happen to be from Ecuador and am fluent in Spanish, so I thought that was half the battle.

Panama canal on the way to Bolivia

After a couple weeks of preparation and after finding a co-pilot who was also fluent in Spanish, I took off from Denver on a beautiful June morning.  Twelve days later, we landed in Santa Cruz, Bolivia with over 65hrs and an absolutely incredible learning experience! 

My next ferry flight, which would have otherwise seemed daunting, felt like a piece of cake to me – Tehachapi, CA to Soldotna, AK.  Another beautiful, yet challenging flight and another 43hrs in my logbook.  In less than 2 months, I had already beat my average yearly flight time!

CAP cadet preflighting

I’m also a volunteer pilot in the Civil Air Patrol and learned about a flight encampment for CAP cadets that was going to be held in July.  I took an extra week vacation and volunteered for that opportunity.  I soloed three students and logged another 43 hours that week.

The FAA allows you to count up to 100hrs of simulator time for your ATP rating, and since I had this time from some training I did in college, it was the equivalent of getting 100hrs in my logbook.

The rest of my flight time came from my regular instructing job and paying for some of the last hours I needed on my own, like the hours I used to get a tailwheel endorsement.  By November, I had all the requirements I needed to get my ATP and in December I took the checkride.

Check out this Cosmopolitan Post on how I got my dream job.

While everyone’s path is different, I wanted to share my story to illustrate that sometimes, you can find creative ways to log flight time.  I never would have thought I could go from a little over 1000 hours to ATP in one year while working a full time job.  But, with some creativity and dedication, I was able to accomplish this goal.

If you have a unique or creative way that you’ve been able to build up flight time, share it by leaving a comment here.

Want more tips on building flight time, check this out: